Current and former students behind an anti-rape culture campaign at Université Sainte-Anne’s Church Point campus say they’re calling on the university president to take action.
In a media release Tuesday, members of the group ‘Faut que SA change maintenant / SA Change Now’ said they want the university’s president to acknowledge the institution’s rape culture, apologize to victims, and promise to institute the campaign’s five recommendations as outlined in their petition.
Those recommendations include: more outdoor lighting around Church Point campus, an onsite full-time counsellor, staffing the university’s recently instituted sexual assault hearings process with trauma-informed professionals, and a position dedicated to handling sexual-assault complaints.
The campaign and accompanying petition was launched Sept. 1, the same day Sainte-Anne English professor Brian Gibson shared an opinion piece (published here). Gibson outlined what he described as a festering rape culture at the province’s only French language university.
Gibson and those behind the campaign said that from 2015-2019 (when the university had an average of 349 full-time students), at least 53 sexual assaults and rapes were committed against students and/or on campus. They said at least 17 sexual assaults or rapes were committed by a single perpetrator — a student security officer. There’s no paper trail, and the Examiner has no way of confirming this number.
Two students behind the campaign also shared their stories with the Halifax Examiner. They said the university has long failed to properly address sexual violence on campus.
Outlining why they created the SA Change Now campaign, former and current students behind the initiative wrote the following on the campaign’s website:
We have become so tired of, fed up with, and outraged by the many experiences of harassment, sexual assault, and rape at Université Sainte-Anne, and/or experiencing such harassment, sexual assault, and rape ourselves…only for the university to so often not take such experiences and cases seriously, and to not treat victims with compassion, care, and concern. Students at Sainte-Anne have, for years, raised complaints and questions about sexual harassment and sexual assault to little avail.
Appall, disgust, and shock
Since the campaign’s Sept. 1 launch, members have shared a daily anonymous vignette relating to incidents of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape.
In addition to posting them on the campaign’s Instagram account and website, members said they’ve emailed each one to all university staff and to everyone on its board of governors.
Their call for action from the university’s president was posted Monday on the campaign’s website and Instagram account. The English version states:
Day after day, account after account, incident after incident, and vignette after vignette, the examples of the rape culture at our microuniversity appall, disgust, and shock. Faut que SA change maintenant / SA Change Now calls on the Rector, Allister Surette, to publicly acknowledge the existence of a rape culture at Université Sainte-Anne, to apologize to the victims and survivors of this rape culture, and to promise to institute the campaign’s five recommended reforms.
SA Change Now members said 11 days into the campaign, more than 500 people have signed its petition. In addition, the website’s creators have published 13 anonymously submitted stories recounting incidents of harassment, assault, or rape at the university.
RCMP asking for information
On Sept. 7, Meteghan RCMP issued an appeal for information related to alleged historical sexual assaults at Université Sainte-Anne.
In its media release, Nova Scotia RCMP said through information posted on a public website, members became aware of allegations that more than 50 incidents of sexual assault had occurred between 2015 and 2019.
Meteghan RCMP conducted a review of all sexual assault investigations between 2015 and 2023. It found reports of four sexual assaults occurring at Université Sainte-Anne. Police said all four were investigated.
“The Meteghan RCMP wants any survivors to know that they can contact police and discuss an incident before making a decision to further participate in the investigation and court process. Victim services are available and survivors will be supported,” the release said.
The Halifax Examiner contacted Université Sainte-Anne on Tuesday for comment on the calls issued by SA Change Now on Monday, but didn’t receive a reply.
However, on Sept. 1, responding to a query about whether the university’s administration knew about the serial rapist, Université Sainte-Anne spokesperson Rachelle LeBlanc said they’d received two separate reported sexual assault cases involving different individuals in the last few years.
In her email, LeBlanc said both cases were taken very seriously.
“Actions were taken internally following the steps outlined in our sexual violence policy, and both were reported to the RCMP,” LeBlanc wrote.
LeBlanc also said the university has continuous discussions regarding sexual violence and student and staff safety on their campus. She said this was of utmost importance and something they take very seriously.
“Having said that, sexual violence cases are often complex matters that are sensitive and confidential,” LeBlanc wrote. “All concerns raised by students and employees have been dealt with responsibly and with respect for all.”